Socialist Worker

Fury as Cowley workers sacked with hour’s notice

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2139

The contrast couldn’t be starker. Bankers who have helped to wreck the economy are handed billions of pounds of public money and left to keep raking in their fat salaries.

Meanwhile hundreds of car workers who have slogged away on production lines for years are thrown on the dole with just an hour’s notice.

BMW’s sacking of 850 workers at its Cowley plant in Oxford on Monday offers a snapshot into the contempt with which bosses treat workers in Britain.

The job cuts had clearly been planned for some time, yet bosses waited until the last minute to tell workers they were sacked.

Workers reacted with fury.

A video recording of the sackings has been posted on the YouTube website. It shows workers booing and heckling throughout the announcement.

The bosses were shameless.

Not content with telling people they had no job with immediate effect, they went on to advise workers that they would receive just one week’s pay in lieu of any notice.

They also had the cheek to demand that workers return their uniforms and ID cards “on your way out” or face a deduction of £35 from their final wage.

Disgraceful

Despite being employed by an agency, many of the workers had been at the plant for several years. Because they are agency workers they don’t have the same rights to redundancy payments as “permanent” staff.

Roger Freitis, who had worked at Cowley for two years, told a local newspaper, “It’s not just the job cuts, it’s how they did it which is disgraceful.

“An hour before the end of our shift they round us up and say we are going. We’ve been here all weekend asking what is going to happen and they say nothing. I’ve got a mortgage and a child. I don’t know what to do.”

Workers were understandably furious with their bosses. But some of the most bitter anger was aimed at the Unite union that allegedly represents them at BMW.

In the video recordings of the sackings, workers can be heard shouting, “Where’s the fucking union?”

Union representatives, who were standing in the room next to the managers, were then forced to respond. Much of what they say is indistinguishable from the bosses.

“We have tried to negotiate,” they claimed. “This is the climate that we’re living in – it’s happening everywhere.”

“It’s not us that are getting rid of you,” they pleaded, to boos from the workers, who demanded that the union repaid them all the subs they had paid over their years of working at the firm. It became apparent that union officials had been aware of the impending job losses and – even in the face of much questioning from the workers – had kept them in the dark.

“Why didn’t you appeal,” someone shouts. “We asked you yesterday what was happening and you said you didn’t know – that was a lie,” says another.

Adam Mason, an assembly line worker, summed up the mood of the workers when he told the local paper, “Clearly someone knew this was going to happen. It seems they have been having meetings so someone must have known.

“Where has the union been all this time? Why did I bother paying my subscription? They did nothing for us.

“The government has done nothing in this recession apart from hand money to the banks and bankers. Why can’t they help us?”

See videos of the sackings »  Video of management sacking agency workers at Cowley and the union response » Stormy union meeting


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